TRY saving the world-one library at a time


Speech for TRY Library Staff Conference:
Dr. Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada
Toronto, Ontario
May 3, 2016
The speech was delivered in English.

Good morning, and thanks for inviting me to the TRY Library Conference.

I have to confess that when I hear the acronym "TRY," I am reminded of the immortal words of Yoda from The Empire Strikes Back:

"Do. Or do not. There is no try."

In a sense, this little piece of wisdom is very apt for the library world.

We respond to change—totally, completely, with heart and soul—or we do not survive.

So today, I want to tell you how Library and Archives Canada intends not only to respond to change but to be ahead of the curve as much as we possibly can.

But first of all, allow me to say a few words about my institution, Library and Archives Canada.

The Public Archives of Canada was founded in 1872.

And here is an interesting tidbit for you—it was founded as a branch of the Department of Agriculture!

It went on to become the National Archives in 1987.

In 1953, the National Library was created, and in 2004, Canada became one of the first countries in the world to combine its national library and its national archives.

Library and Archives Canada arose from the vision of a new kind of knowledge organization—fully integrated between two disciplines, and equipped to respond to the information demands of the 21st century.

It was a bold idea. Revolutionary even.

And it began with a conversation.

Between a librarian and an archivist.

Former National Librarian Roch Carrier and Ian Wilson, former National Archivist.

They both understood that the web had completely changed the way that the world used information and defined knowledge.

Perhaps Ian Wilson picked up a map. Where did it belong? In a library or an archive?

Perhaps Roch Carrier produced a roll of film from his pocket. Library? Archives? Who knows?

From that conversation, a great idea was born.

They began to think about an organization that would combine the National Library and the National Archives—that would house books, images, art, text, sounds and objects in a single collection.

One that could offer seamless access.

The idea was so ground-breaking that the term "documentary heritage" had to be expanded to encompass everything such an organization could collect, preserve and share.

And so they began the work of creating a new organization dedicated to the preservation of Canada's collective memory, in all its forms.

One that involved the common work of two unique disciplines.

We are the only G-20 country with this kind of combined national institution, one that is designed to

  • juxtapose the landscapes of two venerable disciplines;
  • integrate expertise and technology; and
  • offer a seamless kind of service to an increasingly seamless world.

Belgium, the Netherlands, and New Zealand have recently tried to merge their national library and their national archives and they all failed. 

Singapore did it in 2012. And so far it looks as if it will be a success.

By being both a national library and a national archives, LAC had a unique opportunity to question the old ways of doing things, to find new routes to fulfil its mandate, and to mirror back the society it is documenting—one which is fluid, interconnected, and spontaneous.

This is no small challenge, especially if you're a government agency.

But it can be done, provided it is done together with partners.

There is no shortage of content; it is all around us—private, published, and government.

But the process of how we make it available and accessible is something that needs collective thought.

If LAC is to take advantage of its "dual citizenship," it needs to seek advice as broadly and as often as it can, because there are very few existing models of similar organizations to follow or learn from.

This lack of examples means that LAC has been forging a new and untested path, with the inevitable trial and errors that go with it. We may have made a few mistakes, but we are constantly learning.

Our mandate is broad and comprehensive:

  • to preserve the documentary heritage of Canada for the benefit of present and future generations;
  • and to serve as the continuing memory of the government of Canada and its institutions.

We achieve this through a variety of programs and services that meet the needs of our clients, stakeholders and partners.

We are responsible for

  • maintaining legal deposit, by which two copies of everything published in Canada are deposited with us;
  • deciding which government records are of archival and historical value, and providing disposition authorities for records which no longer have operational value;
  • maintaining the national union catalog, which contains over 25 million bibliographic descriptions, location and holdings information from hundreds of Canadian libraries;
  • developing national and international standards in the areas of archival and library science; and
  • running the Documentary Heritage Communities Program, a new funding program introduced this year, to support documentary heritage communities across the country.

Our services include

  • access to information, so that Canadians can get the information they want from the federal government;
  • reference services for those who consult our documents, including journalists, researchers, students, professors, and the public in general; and
  • services for publishers, such as International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) and the Cataloguing in Publication service (CIP).

These are vital programs and important services, but there is more.

We are also the stewards of a vast collection of digital and analog records.

Let's take a quick look at this collection:

  • 22 million books, the weight of 43 blue whales!
  • 250 kilometres of textual records, which, lined up, would take us from Toronto—arguably the centre of the universe—to the very edge of the earth's atmosphere!
  • 3 million maps, plans and architectural drawings which equates to the number of leaves on 12 oak trees!
  • 30 million photographs, almost as many photos as people in Canada;
  • 550,000 hours of audio and video recordings, enough to keep you occupied for the next 63 years;
  • 5 billion megabytes of digital content;
  • a copy of every stamp issued by Canada Post;
  • a unique collection of medals;
  • and the largest collection of Canadian documentary art in the world, with over 425,000 works, including sculptures, illustrations from children's books, comic books, political posters and iconic portraits.

Storing all this safely is no mean feat, as you can imagine.

I'd like to briefly mention some of the impressive buildings which house our collection.

The Preservation Centre in Gatineau, with its 48 vaults and modern conservation labs is a world-class, state-of-the-art facility.

We also have plans to build a new facility next door to the Preservation Centre to preserve and provide access to our textual records.

Our nitrate facility is the only one in Canada for the long-term storage of nitrate films and negatives. It has won numerous awards for its green design.

We also opened a facility in Gatineau which features the latest in high-density storage. Our national newspaper collection is there, as well as veterans' military files from the Second World War.

So that gives you a broad picture of your national library and archives.

And as a library, we face the same challenge that all libraries face in the 21st century—how to manage change while still providing access.

In the digital information landscape, responding to this challenge can be a complex task.

We have to think about....

  • the changing needs and expectations of our clients;
  • questions of copyright;
  • the balance between digital and print resources;
  • new technologies; and
  • a highly-mobile, 24/7 knowledge environment.

Let's go over some of these topics in a bit more detail.

First of all we have to acknowledge that we are all connected. In a really big way.

In 2014, 24 million Canadians owned cell phones. That does not mean that Canadians spend all their time talking!

Eighty per cent of these phones were smart phones, used mostly with apps rather than for voice communication.

This sprawling network of connections is redefining how libraries provide their services.

So is the world of digital publishing.

Booknet surveyed over 70 Canadian publishers in 2014 and found that 93 per cent of them were producing e-books.

One third of Canadian publishers have made 75 per cent or more of their collection available digitally.

OverDrive, an organization that specializes in the virtual loan of digital works, reported that the circulation of e-books, audiobooks and other digital media in Canadian and American libraries went up by 33 per cent in 2014 alone.

The Toronto Public Library alone has recorded 2 million such loans.

And in Quebec, a consortium of public libraries has developed a platform known as pretnumé In just three years, more than a million virtual loans were made through this popular service.

We have also witnessed the growth of digital libraries, like Gallica, an online library created by the Bibliothèque nationale de France. By the end of 2014, free access to 3.2 million items was provided by Gallica, including books, periodicals, maps, recordings and photographs.

At the same time, print still represents roughly 80 per cent of global book sales, taking the wind out of the sails of those who predicted the death of books not so long ago.

According to a Pew Research Centre survey, 90 per cent of e-book readers continue to read actual physical books—the kind you can put on a shelf, hold in your hand and lend to your friends.

This presents a genuine challenge, especially for public libraries, who are expected to maintain their print resources while expanding the scope of their digital collections.

The nature of these digital collections is also an interesting issue.

Providing access to these new kinds of collections is a new frontier for the library community, but the responses so far have been fascinating.

Take for example, the Digital Public Library of America.

In the U.S., the Digital Public Library of America, or DPLA, is a common portal, allowing access to over 13 million items from the holdings of memory organizations across the U.S., up from 2.3 million items in three short years!

The DPLA has just reached another major milestone in the past year—1,900 contributing institutions. In April 2013, when the DPLA was launched, there were a mere 500 contributing institutions!

The DPLA provides free online access to digitized cultural heritage content from libraries, archives and museums across the U.S., and its success speaks to the power of networks and their place as a growth industry.

In fact, with so much emphasis on connections and networks, it should come as no surprise that partnerships are fast becoming the best way for memory organizations, like libraries, to respond effectively to the digital world.

For example, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in the Netherlands and its public and private partners plan to digitize roughly 90 per cent of the country's monographs published before 1940, by 2018.

The National Library of Norway provides anyone who has a Norwegian IP address with access to 250,000 published books that are still under copyright.

Crowdsourcing is another mechanism used by libraries and others to build links between institutions and users.

For example, LibCrowds at the British Library enables volunteers to create a searchable database from printed card catalogues.

The National Library of Australia has been using crowdsourcing to enable text correcting for their digitized newspaper collection in the Trove National Library.

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention copyright in the digital era, an issue every library in the world is dealing with.

The current Copyright Act was introduced in 2012. Yet there are still a number of outstanding issues, including:

  • what is meant by fair dealing; and
  • the copyright exceptions in the Marrakesh Treaty, which allow for the creation of accessible versions of books and other copyrighted works for people with perceptual disabilities.

As a national institution, LAC is frequently asked to share both its perspective and its expertise on copyright with other government departments.

We are working closely with stakeholders, the Department of Canadian Heritage and with Innovation, Science and Economic Development in order to share this perspective in the context of the review of copyright legislation scheduled for 2017.

With all this talk about digital, I think it is important to also remember that the physical spaces of libraries are still very important.

I was struck by this observation in a recent report of the British Library:

At a time when the provision of knowledge and culture is increasingly digital and screen-based, the value and importance of high-quality physical spaces and experiences is growing, not diminishing.

The more screen-based our lives, it seems, the greater the perceived value of real human encounters and physical artefacts: activity in each realm feeds interest in the other.

It's a remarkable observation.

And it's a key element in the renewal of our presence at 395 Wellington, one of Ottawa's most iconic buildings and a testament to the importance libraries play for Canadians.

It also behind our exploration of a possible co-location with the Ottawa Public Library.

This would create an unprecedented cultural hub for the city, with shared exhibition spaces and the scope to combine various services, such as genealogy.

We would move our reading rooms from 395 Wellington to the new central library.

By bringing our services together we would increase access to the collections of both institutions.

"Location, location, location," as the old dictum of real estate goes.

Like university libraries, Library and Archives Canada has to make choices which are both pragmatic and informed.

The nature of technology means that we can't always foresee the consequences happening down the line, or how people will adapt to them. And we can't embrace every new technology that comes along.

So we need to share both resources and expertise, as well as experience, with as many partners as possible.

This is one reason we developed a three-year plan as a roadmap for LAC's activities until 2019.

The plan is based on consultations with our clients, our stakeholders, and our employees.

It reflects the feedback we got from our most active clients, through consultation sessions, focus groups, online surveys and formal discussions with our Stakeholders Forum.

The Stakeholders Forum comprises 12 of our closest professional partners in the Canadian documentary heritage community, including:

  • the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL);
  • the Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN);
  • the Provincial and Territorial Public Library Council (PTPLC);
  • and the Canadian Urban Libraries Council (CULC).

When we asked our survey respondents to rank LAC activities in terms of priority, 54 per cent said "to provide access to the collections," compared with 24 per cent who opted for preservation and 18 per cent for acquisition.

So we listened. We made access the number one goal of our three-year plan.

And we responded by creating a plan for the future that takes into account the trends I discussed before, and which we think will meet the needs of Canadians.

Here are highlights of what we came up with.

As an institution, LAC has four main priorities:

  • To be dedicated to serving all our clients;
  • To be at the leading edge of library and archival science;
  • To be proactively engaged with national and international networks; and
  • To have greater public visibility.

The first priority is to ensure that we are fully dedicated to serving all our clients.

This includes academics, researchers, archivists, librarians, students, the government of Canada, donors, genealogists and the general public.

Naturally, access tops the list here.

A new client-based service strategy will also offer researchers services that are more attuned to their needs.

We will post as much content as possible on social media, and invest in the digitization of our collection so that more goes online for Canadians to use.

One of the biggest projects we have invested in is the digitization of our First World War records, the largest digital preservation project ever attempted at LAC.

You will be interested to know that Frederick Banting (the co-discoverer of insulin), Raymond Chandler (the creator of the famous detective Philip Marlowe), and Archibald Belaney (the naturalist known as Grey Owl) all served in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (CEF) in the First World War.

We are digitizing their service files, along with 640,000 others—the records of all the men and women who served in the Great War.

They include medical records, diaries and photographs.

Each month LAC receives more than 800 requests to consult these files.

They tell the unforgettable tales of courage and fear, resilience and suffering, victory and loss that bring history to life and honour to all who fought in Canada's name.

Once the project is complete, some 32 million images will be available on LAC's website for online research, offering unprecedented access to our history.

LAC has also been actively digitizing materials together with some of its partners.

For example, digitized 35 million pages of archival material on microfilm. digitized and indexed 11 archival collections, representing 3 million pages online.

New partnerships with and Ancestry are now underway, for newspaper reels and certificates of military instruction.

We will also put more content on mobile interfaces to reach more people.

As you may already know, we are also going to adopt a new integrated library management system to replace AMICUS, which is now obsolete.

Negotiations on this have taken a little longer than we expected, but I am pleased to say we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Our plans are that by 2017, LAC will use OCLC for most of its internal collection management functions: acquisition, cataloguing, serial control, and circulation. We will also use OCLC for the National Union Catalogue, for copy cataloguing, inter-library loan and resource sharing.

Speaking of inter-library loans, I know this is an area of great interest to the library community.

I am pleased to let you know that we have expanded our loans service to include newspaper titles on microfilm as of April 1.

We have also been working with the library community for several years on the Last Copies Initiative.

The aim is to reduce duplicate library holdings and preserve last copies. We will do this by asking Canadian institutions to agree on which publications they will be responsible for. CARL institutions have been very active participants in this work.

And finally, to meet this first priority, we will continue to update and improve our website.

As you know, our website is already one of the top ten in government, but we think it could be even more user-friendly, by optimizing search tools and making it easier for Canadians to discover their heritage.

The second priority of our three-year plan is to put us at the leading edge of archival and library science and new technologies.

As I mentioned before, we are working on creating a second preservation centre in Gatineau, a state-of-the-art centre, which will preserve and provide access to our text records.

And we will get ready to face the digital future with our digital strategy, designed to provide the technology we need, to ensure our collections include new forms of born-digital heritage like data and web, and to meet our preservation needs.

Our third priority is being proactively engaged in national and international networks.

Practically speaking, what this means for me is having LAC engage in innovative partnerships.

Partnerships with new players like academia, non-profit organizations, the private sector, and provincial and other public institutions, like public libraries.

We just announced one of these new partnerships, a co-location with the popular Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax.

Next January, LAC will be moving its Atlantic offices from Dartmouth to Pier 21, in the heart of downtown Halifax.

This will mean that Canadians will be able to benefit from the services of both organizations in one central location.

Visitors will be able to conduct research using LAC's collection, meet with LAC archivists, and research their family history while visiting the museum.

We will also be joining forces to mount exhibitions and public programs.

I am happy to let you know that we are also on the verge of a similar announcement for Vancouver. 

Last year we also created a precedent by signing two agreements with the University of Ottawa and Dalhousie University to share expertise, knowledge and technology, as well as support research and outreach activities over the next five years.

I hope this trend will continue with other Canadian universities that have an interest in sharing expertise with LAC.

Partnerships like these position both LAC and the academic institutions at the cutting edge of library and archival sciences.

And they mean that researchers and graduate students will enjoy greater access to LAC resources and staff to support their work, especially in the humanities and the social sciences.

Networks and partnerships are also behind the National Documentary Heritage Digitization Strategy, which we have developed with the Stakeholders Forum.

The first step toward setting the strategy in motion will be to establish a steering committee to oversee the strategy.

The blue-ribbon committee will include creators, writers, cultural communities, end users, as well as representatives from libraries, archives, historical societies, museums, galleries, universities, and the private and not-for-profit sectors.

As an independent body, the committee will set direction, organize projects and develop funding models for various digitization initiatives.

The group will function along the lines of a board of directors, with each participant having equal opportunities to propose solutions and projects.

There will also be a national secretariat to help put the strategy into action.

The main goals of the secretariat will be

  • To develop an inventory of existing digitization projects and systems to identify gaps;
  • To develop, share, and determine future requirements in the area of standards;
  • To collect and share best practices;
  • To create a collaborative portal; and
  • To support the work of the National Steering Committee.

We are holding an international panel on national digitization strategies on June 3, during the Canadian Library Association meeting in Ottawa.

We are going to use this occasion to officially launch the National Documentary Heritage Digitization Strategy.

It's going to be a fascinating discussion. Just to whet your appetite, here are the international experts who will be speaking:

  • Dan Cohen, the Executive Director of the Digital Public Library of America;
  • Rolf Källman, the Head of Department at the Swedish National Archives;
  • Hildelies A. Balk-Pennington de Jongh, the Head of the Marketing & Services Division at the National Library of the Netherlands; and,
  • Dan Jones, the Senior VP of Global Content & General Manager, International, at Ancestry.

Please take this as an invitation to join us in Ottawa on June 3!

And speaking of partnerships, because it's 2016, public participation is just as important.

We are going to expand the opportunities for the public to get involved and to share their knowledge with us with respect to the records we hold.

In addition, we will continue to fund the Documentary Heritage Communities Program so that private organizations, including privately funded libraries and archives, will be able to preserve and showcase their collections.

We provided much-needed funding to 65 organizations in the first year, including CARL, CRKN and other members of the library community. This year, in the second round of the program, we received 155 applications for a total ask of over 8 million.

So now we've come to the fourth and last priority of our three-year plan, which is to achieve greater public visibility. I firmly believe this is the key to highlighting the value of our collection and services.

We will continue to loan out items from our collection so that larger audiences will have a chance to enjoy the thrill of discovering an original work of art, or a map, or one of Canada's foundational documents, like the constitution.

There's nothing like the unique experience of coming face to face with original materials.

Even though digitization is the way of the future, the analogue world still has a few secrets up its sleeve.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Walter Isaacson described his initial thrill at finding out that Albert Einstein's papers were to be published free and online.

But he added feeling "a pinch of sadness." He lamented that "the next generation of scholars will lose the tingling inspiration of seeing original documents."

I think his worry is not totally founded.

Even if the Mona Lisa is merely a click away on Google, millions still line up to see her at the Louvre, live and in person, so to speak.

Even if the Beatles music is readily available on iTunes, people line up at the British Library to see the original lyrics of "A Hard Day's Night" written on the reverse side of Julian Lennon's birthday card.

So it is one of my most deeply felt commitments to exhibit as many original documents as possible.

There is a real emotional connection to the evidence of our history in its original form that nothing else can replace.

We have also launched a dynamic season of public programming at 395 Wellington with a number of ongoing series.

Just yesterday, we were pleased to welcome Caroline Brazier, the Chief Librarian of the British Library to our stage for her thoughts on the value of libraries.

As part of the same series, we also had Robert Darnton, the University Librarian, Emeritus of Harvard and founder of the DPLA, speak to us last year.

Through the Signatures series, I have the good fortune to interview some of LAC's most notable donors, who have trusted us with their personal archives, including the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien, who will be my guest on May 18.

And there is a lot more where that came from, since most prominent Canadians have given their archives to LAC.

There is no way we could do all these things if we were not listening—listening and responding.

As libraries, we are used to this. It's in our DNA.

Libraries are some of the most responsive and innovative institutions on the planet.

Even though this talk has focussed on change, I think it is important to remember that we could not cope with the kind of changes we face today if not for the work we did before.

Work which has given us the accumulated wisdom and experience to sift through the changes and to identify real opportunities for growth and innovation.

To quote the novelist Haruki Murakami:

"What we call the present is given shape by an accumulation of the past."

That past included plenty of new ideas and adaptations that today, we think of as commonplace.

It is important to remember this.

As libraries and librarians, we are the guardians of memory, the evangelists of information, and the stewards of knowledge.

We have always been there, at the vanguard of change.

And we always will be.

Although, to quote Yoda one last time:

"When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good you will not."

Thank you.

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